Is Nyquist that good? We will see.
Could it happen again? It took 37 years before American Pharoah won horse racing’s Triple Crown, a feat that many thought was no longer possible. The horses are bred differently, train differently and generally are not as tough were the listed reasons for it not to happen. But now that Pharoah has cracked through, many think there could be a 1970s style run where the crown was achieved three times. And, if Nyquist were to prevail, it would mirror the back-to-back accomplishments of Seattle Slew and Affirmed in 1977 and 1978.
Yes, I have gotten way, way ahead of myself. As good and dominant as Nyquist’s win was, there is much lying ahead. He has to come out of the race in fine shape; he has to ship to Pimlico, and he has to win the Preakness before the real hype begins.
Nyquist came into the Derby with plenty of doubters and plenty of question marks. First and foremost was could he get the 1 ¼ distance? I always smirk when I hear this before the Derby because as we all know, with the exception of Lani, none of the horses had ever run 10 furlongs. Furthermore, many judge that on how horses finish 1 1/8 mile races. They see a horse take the lead and then slow up at the end (they call it tiring) and they think that the extra eighth of a mile will exact its toll. They also see other horses close fast and think that with another eighth of a mile in the Derby, they will keep on rolling.
There is certainly some merit in this, but horses do what they have to do to win races. To me, as long as the horse finishes first, it has to be noted as such. Nyquist is an undefeated horse; simply, he knows how to win; he feels he will and by golly, he wins. He reminds many and me of Seattle Slew, who was undefeated and unheralded but just never lost races and that included the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. The experts poked holes in Slew, said he had weaknesses, but each time, the colt kept getting to the line first. To this point, that’s what Nyquist has been doing.
Nyquist certainly has the right style to win two more Triple Crown races. The Preakness is next and most of the time; the race at fabled Pimlico is easiest to win. The Derby winner is still fresh, is still on a high while the other horses can’t ‘get” up for another race just two weeks later. Many of the 20 horses that ran yesterday won’t do so in Baltimore and the “new shooters,” are usually a grade below what we saw at Churchill Downs. The arrows are pointing in the right direction for sure.
The Belmont is the toughest as we know. The distance, the big track that swallows horses whole, the attrition; these are things we have all heard–and seen– in the past. In the Belmont, there will be horses from the Derby that skipped the Preakness waiting for him. There will be horses that started their campaigns later waiting (see Tonalist, 2014) and ready. Once again, we are ahead of ourselves, but it is fun to project, no?
Nyquist has the right style to win the Triple Crown. He is not a closer and he is not a front runner. He has that perfect, measured stalking style that is “Triple Crown suitable.” Secretariat had it, so too, did Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Closers never win the Triple Crown, neither do front runners. In the Derby, Danzig Candy did his job, cutting fast fractions of 22, 45.72 and 1:10, but Nyquist was never worse than third, never worse than a few lengths off the lead. When it was time to go at the top of the stretch, Nyquist went and proved to be a worthy champion. His winning time of 2:01.31 is more than excellent. I’ve always been a big fan of the clock and anytime a horse runs 1 ¼ miles under 2:02 count me as impressed.
There should be a deserved buzz going forward to the Preakness because the horse is that good. Sometimes, it’s exciting to see a longshot win the Derby like Giacomo at 50-1 in 2005 or Mine That Bird, also 50-1 in 2009, but that usually fades because we dismiss their Derby win as a fluke. That shouldn’t be the case this time. The best horse won and the best horse will now take his act to Charm City. After last year, I’m not sure what mood the public is in? Do they want to see another Triple Crown? Are they still living off the goodness that American Pharoah provided? Some probably think so. As beloved as American Pharoah was and is some might think that a Nyquist Triple Crown would take away from what he accomplished. I don’t believe this because I was five, nine and 10 when Secretariat (no personal memory) Seattle Slew (vivid memory) and Affirmed won (I was an Alydar fan) and then 47 when I saw another Triple Crown. They are just not that easy to capture.
It will all unfold in a fortnight. Will Exaggerator, the hard-charging second place finisher head to Baltimore? Gun Runner? The story will surface soon. Most would like to see an Exaggerator-Nyquist rematch, but Exaggerator has never beaten Nyquist. We know that Todd Pletcher, who continues to struggle in the Kentucky Derby won’t send his two Derby runners and there will be some from yesterday that we will never see again. Mohaymen comes to mind. He looked so good before the Florida Derby and then was trounced by Nyquist there. The track was muddy providing a legitimate excuse. But he spit the bit yesterday and though he finished fourth, was never a threat. Does he have another big race in him, or is he done?
The Derby is the most important race in the United States, but the Preakness remains the most pivotal. It can legitimize the Kentucky Derby champion and it makes the Belmont a spectacle or just another big race. It may not have the luster or the class of the Derby, but make no mistake it’s significance on the racing calendar should never be diminished. The Preakness, in my opinion has always been understated, something I have liked because of my working class upbringing. They call it “The People’s Race,” and I believe it’s an appropriate title.
The next 13 days will be fun ones so let the hype begin.
Until next time.